Magic happens in opera when you are sitting in the audience and you suddenly forget where you are.
That’s what happened at Crowder Hall on Thursday night when the University of Arizona Opera Theatre mounted Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
For 2 1/2 hours, we were entangled in the tragic love story of the beautiful belle of the ball Violetta and the handsome smitten Alfredo. From the moment they met in the opening scene party, with the men dressed in smart tuxedos and the women in gorgeously colorful gowns, we were convinced that Violetta and Alfredo were truly in love.
That’s how you get lost; you have to believe that what you are seeing on stage could be real.
Soprano Yunnie Park and tenor Humberto Borboa Beltrán were so believable in the roles of Violetta and Alfredo that we couldn’t help but feel they were doing more than channeling the emotions of their characters.
We blushed each time they kissed with all the passion we would expect from a couple in love. We ached when Park’s Violetta gave into Alfredo's father — sung by baritone Seth Kershisnik — and agreed to end her relationship with Alfredo. And we felt a deep sense of loss when Alfredo returned to Violetta as she was on her death bed, holding her as she took her final breath.
In the hands of a lesser cast, “La Traviata” can come off as clumsy and awkward. But this cast, assembled by UA Opera Theatre director Charles Roe, had the vocal and acting chops that elevated this to the level of performance we expect from a professional company, not a student production.
Not to say there weren’t a few clumsy moments. The Arizona Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Thomas Cockrell, got off to a bumpy start, sounding during the prelude as if they weren’t all on the same page. But they quickly redeemed themselves and turned in a wonderfully crisp and well-paced performance of Verdi’s lush score. The male dancer in the third act ball scene with three women dancers stumbled about several times as if he couldn’t quite find his balance as he leaped and twirled.
But Thursday’s audience filling three-fourths of Crowder Hall won’t remember those missteps. They will remember that the enormously talented Park showcased a burnished soprano when she hit those high notes and her coloratura runs were breathtaking. Her acting was just as impressive; she embodied Violetta in a way that convinced us she was lost without Alfredo’s love and slowly dying from consumption.
And they will marvel to friends about Beltrán’s powerfully graceful and bright tenor that exhibited sweet lyric quality when he joined Park in their duet “Un dì, felice, eterea” (One day, happy and ethereal). They will give equal nods to the very fine baritone Kershisnik, who wobbled around on a cane as Alfredo’s older father Germont. Kershisnik, a regular on the UA Opera Theatre stage, has a strong but gentle voice that gets into your head and stays there long after the final bow.
The wonderful Arizona Choir will also get nods for a powerful performance vocally and acting. This bunch is simply fantastic and if anyone was off pace or out of sorts you couldn’t hear it from where I was sitting.
For the “La Traviata” cast, the magic came when all was said and sung. As the curtain rose, they were greeted by an audience on its feet, applauding loud enough to be heard outside the hall.
University of Arizona Opera Theatre’s production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” repeats at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Thursday's cast is on stage for the Saturday performance; tonight and Sunday, Christy McClarty is Violetta, Guillermo Lopez Guitierrez is Alfredo and Charles Hamilton is Germont. Click here for tickets.